AUSTIN (KXAN) — Law enforcement agencies, schools and college campuses across the country are utilizing military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense. It’s through the 1033 program, and interested parties must go through a rigorous application process, stating purpose and rationale for the equipment.
The University of Texas System Police is taking advantage of the program. So far they have a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, two Humvees, rifles and rifle sights. But the hope is that they will never have to use it.
“Threats to campuses, threats in America, threats to police have evolved,” said Michael Heidingsfield, director of police for the UT System. “Our obligation is to evolve our response accordingly.”
The MRAP is stored in a secure location in the Austin-San Antonio area, the director said, putting it within reasonable driving distance of about 75,000 students. The vehicle would be used in active shooter situations or if a natural disaster hits.
“Whether we are delivering police officers in a protected vehicle to deal with a threat,” Heidingsfield says, “extricating and rescuing people who have already been wounded or are at risk of being wounded, or delivering medical professionals into the scene as well, that vehicle exists for one sole purpose, and that’s to save lives.”
Heidingsfield said there was about 18 months of careful deliberation before bringing in the militarized equipment.
“If we had a need and we couldn’t fulfill that need because we didn’t have this piece of equipment, then I would have felt we didn’t meet our obligations in terms of public safety, saving lives.”
The Humvees have been deployed twice in the Rio Grande Valley. One case involved the kidnapping of a student on campus that was drug cartel related. It was also used in response to a suspect threatening to incinerate UT Brownsville with an improvised explosive device.”
However, questions remain on whether or not they should have these items in the first place.
“Some of these things designed for warfare, it’s not clear those are an appropriate fit for general policing,” said Matt Simpson, senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberty Union of Texas. Simpson would like to see more community input when agencies consider getting the equipment.
There’s no cost for the military equipment, but departments have to pay for the maintenance on training. Exact numbers on how much the maintenance will cost could not be provided by the UT System.
Heidingsfield says getting more equipment in the future is not out of the equation, however, a fleet of MRAP vehicles is unlikely.